From the off, it is clear what In Nightmare is trying to do. Walking around murky environments and digging up clues while uncovering a traumatic past is quite the current trend, with many recent releases dealing with similar topics and themes.
This, in essence, is what In Nightmare is all about. You play as a young boy who, in the words of the press release, “…has closed his heart to reality,” only to awaken in a nightmarish world. It’s your job to uncover what past trauma he has gone through and deal with it in order to wake up and escape this horror land of your own creation, and this is all done via some heavy-handed metaphors and by solving some rather clever puzzles.
Release Date: March 29th, 2022
Developer: Magic Fish Studio
Publisher: Maximum Games
Availability: PSN (PS5, PS4)
That being said, playing In Nightmare was a bit of a mixed bag. The puzzles you are faced with are some of the most intriguing and fiendishly inventive I have played on PS5, and I absolutely loved them. In Nightmare does not treat you like a fool, and I did more than my fair share of head-scratching as I tried to beat each level.
Whether you are solving a room-altering Rubix cube, solving a switch puzzle with the help of a riddle, or running through a maze using picture clues to escape, In Nightmare is not short of ways to test you, and it is this variety that is one of In Nightmare’s major strengths.
Each puzzle feels unique, and you really need to tune in to your environment to solve them. If you are one of those gaming purists who refuse to look up guides or solutions, prepare to be utterly stumped on more than one occasion. I am not ashamed to admit that I did have to give in and pray to the almighty Google a few times to work out what it was I was supposed to do next.
It is this major strength that then leads to one of my main gripes with In Nightmare. As each of the puzzles are done so well, it only highlights how weak the parts in between are. As such, these parts of In Nightmare end up relegated to nothing more than a walking sim that strings together the strong puzzling sections. This might not sound too bad if it weren’t for the fact that these parts are so boring. Large sections of the game take you trotting down gloomy corridors or murky environments to get from A to B, and it was here that my attention started to wane.
Some may rightly argue that these are larger exploration puzzles that require you to search for a lever to unlock a door or uncover a hidden entrance using a blue fairy-like creature named Blinky, who helps out by highlighting hidden areas or items. The problem is that I found these sections repetitive and overly long, with clunky controls and a camera that hinders more than it helps, particularly during the game’s enemy encounters.
My eagerness to uncover each new puzzle was quickly drained by these sections. All too often these sections have you dodging some monster in the dark, hiding under tables or sneaking down corridors. With no real combat to speak of, these stealth sections sound good on paper but, on top of them being overused, they are also super boring. There are only so many times that dodging a monster in the dark can be considered fun. Getting caught often means doing the section again, and half my mistakes were made out of frustrated rushing as opposed to any level of difficulty.
These monsters serve as manifestations of whatever trauma put you into your self-induced fugue state, and from what I could work out our boy has a few. Whether that’s because he is being bullied at school or verbally abused at home, it all feels a little heavy-handed.
Each monster represents these traumatic experiences, but rather than focus on one major event, In Nightmare tries to fracture itself and focus on lots of different ones. Whether this is because it is wanting to cover all bases or there is something larger being said – I don’t know – but for me, it just felt like the story lacked any direction and was trying to say too much without enough substance, and by doing so it completely missed the point it is trying to make.
In Nightmare does lean into these horror trappings, but all being said I didn’t find the game overly scary. There are a few moments that feel tense, but there are no real jump scares or gory sections, or anything to really call it “horror” in the traditional sense. Even so, this game isn’t for kids as it does deal with some heavy themes in the topics that it covers.
Much of this story is hidden away, told through text entries that are unlocked through collectables. These items are hidden throughout each world, so it is entirely possible to miss them completely, skipping chunks of the story in the process, unless you want to make the boring walking sections even longer, which I didn’t. So while I got the gist of the story by the naturally fed beats, I feel like I missed out on some important stuff due to it being hidden away among the boring walking sections.
I put a good few hours into playing In Nightmare, and being honest, if I wasn’t playing it for a review, I’d have probably put it down before hitting the end.
Decent puzzles aside, the stiff controls and repetitive gameplay drag on, leaving the fun moments few and far between. This is a shame, as without much of the bloat, In Nightmare could have been a unique puzzle adventure that would be recommended on the strength of its puzzles alone. Instead, it is an overly long game that stretches its playtime by separating the fun with bores and chores.
Summary - Not BadSummary - Not Bad
- Fantastic puzzles that are a real stand out.
- Good sound design add to the tense moments, but can annoy.
- Boring walking sections that simply feel like filler between each puzzle.
- Clunky camera that gets in the way of exploration.
- Story doesn't do anything new or different in what is now a well-worn genre.